May 16, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Former top-10 star Ernests Gulbis is still plugging away, at age 32. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

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ROLAND GARROS – Six years after Ernests Gulbis left Roland Garros as a semifinalist and a new member of the top 10, he’s still here.

Now ranked No. 163, Gulbis is still plugging away. That’s probably a surprise to those who ragged on his effort and desire because of how much his father has in the bank.

But here he is. Or was.

You run into a lot of formerly-accomplished players in the qualifying. More on the men’s side than the women. But they are still chasing it.

Gulbis ended up drawn against Marco Cecchinato, in a match between two players who were once semifinalists at Roland Garros.

And not so long ago, either.

Gulbis fell to Cecchinato in the first round of qualifying, 6-3, 7-5.

He wasn’t, you know, too pleased about things. And he took it out on a photographer after it was done.

To be honest, he was grumpy and rueful most of the match – mostly about the fact that his first serve wasn’t hitting the mark.

At 32, still chasing the dream

Here’s what it looked like against Cecchinato.

Gulbis played the qualifying in Paris in 2018 and made it through, beating Gilles Muller in the first round and losing in four sets in the second round to a player who wasn’t well known then, but is top-10 now: Matteo Berrettini.

Last year, having gotten his ranking back up to No. 79 he was straight in. But he lost in three pretty quick sets to a kid named Casper Ruud, who comes into this year’s edition as a seeded player.

At No. 163, Gulbis wasn’t even seeded in the qualies this year.

But it’s better than where he started the season, which was at No. 258.

Third round in Oz

He squeezed into the qualifying at the Australian Open in January and made it.

And then he upset rising star Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first round. He then beat Aljaz Bedene before losing to Gaël Monfils.

His best effort after that was winning a hard-court Challenger in France in February.

After getting past Bjorn Borg’s son Leo (!!) in the first round, he put together three consecutive three-set wins and then beat Jerzy Janowicz (another top-20 player who has fallen off the map) in straight sets in the final.

So Gulbis was kind of on a roll – and then the pandemic hit. His first effort upon the resumption of play had to be some kind of record.

He lost to the same player – Aslan Karatsev – in three consecutive Challengers in the Czech Republic. And badly, too. What are the odds?

Cecchinato on the comeback trail

At No. 110, Cecchinato is seeded No. 5 in the qualifying.

A year and a half ago, the 27-year-old Italian was ranked a career high No. 19.

He’s not having a great 2020. After losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Alexander Zverev in straight sets, he flew all the way to Uruguay to play a clay-court Challenger there. He got to the final, but that’s a slog.

He then lost in the first round of all four ATP Tour events during the South American clay swing.

Gulbis
2018 semifinalist Marco Cecchinato, now outside the top 100, will play his final round on Friday. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

A semifinalist in 2018

It was only two years ago that Cecchinato was a shocker of a semifinalist in Paris. He defeated Pablo Carreno Busta, David Goffin and Novak Djokovic (who was down at No. 22 in the rankings at the time) before bowing out to Dominic Thiem.

This came just a year after he faced three straight countrymen in the qualifying and lost to one of them – Simone Bolelli, ranked No. 470 – in the final round.

In the main draw last year, he was up two sets to none to Nicolas Mahut – and lost in five sets. That first-round exit cost him all those points, and sent the ranking heading downward.

He then proceeded to lose his first main-draw match in all 13 of the ATP level events he played for the rest of 2019.

Gulbis

The only match he won during that stretch was on an injury retirement by Alexander Bublik in the first round of the Winston-Salem tournament before the US Open.

The miracle was that he was still at No. 75 in the rankings at the end of the season.

But he’s back. And after beating Gulbis, Cecchinato made short work of French player Constant Lestienne in the second round.

He’ll square off against 2012 junior French Open champion Kimmer Coppejans for the right to play the main draw next week.

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